15 February 2013

Namibia: Let's Think of the Millennium Goals Before We Talk of Vision 2030


AS WELL as staking a claim for Namibia's destiny, Vision 2030 seems to locate itself within the broader global consensus on development as encapsulated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Thus how we fare on the MDGs agenda, which is now only three years from now, should give us a clear indication on whether the promises of Vision 2030 will be realised.

The MDGs were adopted at the 56th Session of the UN General Assembly in 2000. And Namibia is a signatory to that agreement. That Millennium Summit aimed at slashing poverty, hunger, disease, maternal and child deaths by a 2015 deadline. We are now only three years away from this deadline. Which raises the question of whether we are anywhere closer to addressing most of those problems by then?

I think there are a number of problems associated with all the MDGs. While the logic and the underlying philosophy seems to be clear, its translation into a programmatic framework is not as clear and neither is the language. The language keeps on shifting between initiatives, sectoral initiatives, (fast tracked) programmes and projects.

Yet, as we head towards 2015 increasing global uncertainties, such as the current economic fluctuations and climate change, have led to an opportunity to rethink the MDGs approach to development policy. According to the 'In Focus' Policy Brief from the Institute of Development Studies, the 'After 2015' debate is about questioning the value of an MDG-type, target-based approach to international development, about progress so far on poverty reduction, about looking to an uncertain future and exploring what kind of system is needed after the MDGs deadline has passed.

But many people, especially the bureaucracy at the UN and in government circles, still remain overly optimistic that the goals can be achieved although concrete and practical results are thin on the ground. "I declared 2010 to be the year of development," said the UN secretary general a few years back. "We need to focus attention and accelerate the process to achieve, to realise, the goals of the MDGs by the target year, 2015. We have only five years left before 2015." He went on to say that: "In the decade since the Goals were first agreed, we have learned a great deal about what works, and where we need to focus our efforts. Evidence shows that the Goals can be achieved, even in the poorest countries, when good policies and projects are backed by adequate resources."

It might be true that the MDGs have triggered worldwide interest in the fight against poverty, hunger, disease and environmental destruction, but paradoxically there has been increasing global hunger, deepening poverty. Thus progress in addressing these problems has been uneven. Some countries have achieved some of the goals, while others are struggling to realise them. The major countries that have, or said to have been achieving some of the goals, include China, India and Brazil. These countries have combined better macro-economic stability and pro-poor social policy and spending.

However, regions needing the most reduction, such as the African region, have yet to make any drastic changes in improving their quality of life and are at a major risk of not meeting the MDGs by 2015. Now when one hears some of our leaders, especially the president himself, speaking strongly against Basic Income Grant (BIG), then one knows we are years away from meeting the basic needs of our people and addressing the scar of poverty and unemployment. And yet it is the same president and his government who has been supporting a bloated military budget over the years, as if the country was at war. It would be interesting to see what the budget for this year will look like.

I agree with other commentators that human security has been deteriorating in Namibia over the years. Just look at the sprawling shantytowns and shacks being set up every day in our major towns and cities while the leadership is on a spending spree, building themselves mansions and lavish offices and constantly on expensive and useless foreign trips that hardly benefit the country.

Unfortunately we don't have reformist, let alone revolutionary-minded leaders in this country and thus for most of them it has been 'business as usual' for the past 22 years. No one is able to say 'wait a moment, can we do this differently'?' But what do we expect? The president just keeps on reshuffling (recycling!) his pack like a deck of cards - so they are under no pressure to perform.

As things are now, most Namibians should forget about the promise of the MDGs unless the political leadership is ready for a radical shift in the way they think and do things. Thus I maintain that our country, and indeed many other developing countries in Africa, cannot achieve the Millennium Development Goals unless they reorder priorities and commit to distributive justice. Otherwise, as Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro wrote two weeks ago ,"Namibia will remain a nation of shack dwellers". Along with, of course, all the other ills.

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